25 December 2017, 09:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of December 18-24

Killing of eight suspected militants during special operations conducted in three regions of Northern Caucasus; armed attack on a Rostov journalist of the "Caucasian Knot"; vote of confidence in an updated government of Georgia; release of Chechen activist Ruslan Kutaev from a penal colony; second dismissal of an appeal against the verdict to Astrakhan activist Igor Stenin; inclusion of the Chechen leader in the US sanctions list, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of December 18-24, 2017, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Eight suspected militants killed during special operations in three regions of Northern Caucasus

Over the past week, in Northern Caucasus, seven suspected militants were killed during special operations conducted in Dagestan and Karachay-Cherkessia. Another suspect was killed in Stavropol after an explosion occurred in a residential apartment building.

At night on December 19, the law enforcement bodies reported a special operation in Dagestan, as a result of which two members of the armed underground were killed. The special operation took place in a forest near the village of Igali in the Gumbet District, where the counterterrorist operation (CTO) legal regime was introduced. One of the killed suspects was identified by law enforcers as Ilyas Sharipov, the leader of the so-called "Balakhanin" grouping of militants, who was in the federal wanted list. The man was a brother of Maryam Sharipova, who blew herself up in the Moscow metro in 2010, a source from the law enforcement bodies reported.

In the morning on December 18, the CTO legal regime was introduced in the Zelenchuksky District of Karachay-Cherkessia. In a shootout which occurred in a summer village on the outskirts of the Zelenchukskaya Cossack village, law enforcers killed five persons, the National Antiterrorist Committee (NAC) reports. According to the law enforcement bodies, the killed suspects were plotting terror acts in crowded places. At the place of the special operation, law enforcers found an improvised explosive device (IED) with metal striking elements, and it was defused by combat engineers.

On December 20, an unidentified person allegedly blew up a grenade in an apartment building in Stavropol, and after that he was killed by law enforcers. After the explosion, 150 people were evacuated from the house, and no one was injured. The man who committed the explosion was a resident of Karachay-Cherkessia and he was presumably a member of the "Zelenchukskaya" grouping of militants, the law enforcement bodies believe.

Rostov "Caucasian Knot" journalist hospitalized with wounds after attack on him

On December 21, in the city of Krasny Sulin in the Rostov Region, an armed attack was launched against Vyacheslav Prudnikov, a journalist of the "Caucasian Knot", who highlighted the problem of wage arrears to Gukovo miners and wrote about violations of the miners' rights. According to Vyacheslav Prudnikov, the attacker opened fire saying: "I'm fed up with you writing about the authorities." The wounded journalist was brought to a hospital, and he underwent surgery. It has been found out that the attacker shot from a traumatic pistol. The police instituted a criminal case under Article "Deliberate infliction of slight damage to health".

Renewed Georgian government gets vote of confidence in acrimonious debate with opposition

On December 22, the Georgian Parliament announced a vote of confidence in the government and the government programme "Freedom, Rapid Development and Improvement", which was developed after in November, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili announced the changes in the structure of the government and its structural reforms to reduce the number of ministries from 18 down to 14, as well as the dismissal of six ministers. The Georgian MPs considered the issue at an extraordinary session of the parliament, which lasted about 13 hours and ended at night. Opposition MPs refused to support the Cabinet of Ministers and explained their position by saying that the government and its programme fail to reflect the needs of the country's population. The renewed composition of the government and the government programme were supported by 103 MPs, while 17 MPs voted against (in total, there are 150 MPs in the Georgian Parliament). On December 20, during the discussion of the programme with members of the "UNM" (United National Movement) Party, the debate turned into a verbal skirmish, for which the Prime Minister had even to apologize to the Georgian society.

Chechen activist Ruslan Kutaev released from penal colony

On December 20, Ruslan Kutaev, the chair of the Assembly of the Peoples of the Caucasus, was released from the "Chernokozovo" penal colony in the Naur District of Chechnya, where he was serving his sentence pronounced in July 2014 in the case of drug possession. The Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial" recognized Ruslan Kutaev as a political prisoner. According to rights defenders, after his detention, the activist was subjected to torture. Ruslan Kutaev himself associated the criminal prosecution with his social and political activities. He was detained and sentenced shortly after on February 18, 2014, on the eve of the anniversary of the deportation of the Chechen and Ingush people, he organized a scientific and practical conference on the topic. The event failed to comply with the order of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to postpone the Day of Remembrance and Sorrow of the people on May 10.

After his release, Ruslan Kutaev flew from Chechnya to Moscow to leave for the place of his residence in the city of Ivanovo. In accordance with the court's order, he plans to stay there for one year of administrative supervision. He has noted he intends to appeal against the decision about the administrative supervision over him. Ruslan Kutaev has also said he is not afraid of persecution and intends to return to the Russian politics after the term of the administrative supervision expires. Until that, the political prisoner has decided to deal with the research activities.

Court re-confirms guilty verdict to Astrakhan activist Igor Stenin

On December 21, at a request of the General Prosecutor's Office, the Court of the Astrakhan Region reconsidered the appeals filed by advocates of local activist Igor Stenin and upheld the verdict. On May 16, 2016, Igor Stenin was sentenced to two years of imprisonment in a colony-settlement for reposting in social network articles about the war in Ukraine. He was found guilty under Part 2 of Article 280 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (dissemination of calls for extremism). On July 28, 2016, the verdict to Igor Stenin was confirmed by the Appeal Board of the Court of the Astrakhan Region. However, in April, the Supreme Court (SC) of Russia ordered the Court of the Astrakhan Region to consider a cassation appeal against the verdict to the activist. On May 30, 2017, the Presidium of the Court of the Astrakhan Region abolished the verdict to him and closed the case because of the absence of components of crime. Igor Stenin was released from a colony-settlement. The defence intends to challenge the Court's decision of December 21. The activist's advocates suggest Igor Stenin was sentenced for a comment posted by another user under his entry.

Leader of Chechnya included in US sanctions list

On December 20, the US Department of Treasury included Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in the Magnitsky List of sanctions. According to US officials, he is responsible for extrajudicial executions, torture and other human rights violations in Chechnya. Soon after that, it became known that the Ramzan Kadyrov's pages in Instagram and Facebook were blocked. The Chechen leader and his subordinates believe the social networks accounts were blocked at the request of the US authorities and sharply criticized the incident. Experts questioned by the "Caucasian Knot" believe the very introduction of Ramzan Kadyrov in the Magnitsky List of sanctions has strengthened his loyalty to the Kremlin. It should be noted that in 2013, the New York Times reported on the inclusion of the Chechen leader in a secret part of the Magnitsky List of sanctions, which, according to a source from the US Department of State, involved only visa sanctions.

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